STAR WARS: JEDI APPRENTICE #4:
THE MARK OF THE CROWN

As soon as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn stepped off the departure ramp of the their transport onto the planet of Gala, a cloud car purred to a stop at their feet.

The door opened noiselessly. A ramp slid down. A driver dressed in a navy tunic and pants scrambled out, then waited by the open door. Inside, Obi-Wan glimpsed a luxurious interior.

"Queen Veda has sent her personal transport for the Jedi," the driver announced.

"Please thank the Queen for her hospitality," Qui-Gon said with a small bow. "It is such a fine day. We prefer to walk to the palace."

The driver looked startled. "But the Queen instructed me to - "

"Thank you," Qui-Gon said firmly, and walked past the driver.

Obi-Wan followed his Master. He knew that the weather had nothing to do with why Qui-Gon had decided to walk. A Jedi mission began the moment a Jedi's feet touched the surface of a new planet. Every sense her or she had was to be focused on the surroundings. Attunement to sight, smell, sound, and touch helped to bring the Force to bear. It was said that some Jedi Masters could see all the way to the end of a mission just by taking a few short steps on a new world.

Thirteen-year-old Obi-Wan wasn't a Master - or even a Jedi Knight - yet. As an apprentice, he had a long journey ahead. But even an apprentice could feel the dark tremors rippling under the calm surface of Galu, the capital city of Gala. Obi-Wan couldn't see to the end of the mission, but he could already sense that success would be hard-won, and far from assured.

They exited the space port and entered the wide boulevards of the city. Galu was a city built on three hills. On top of the tallest hill was the gleaming white palace, visible from any point on the city streets.

Gala had once been a prosperous planet, the jewel of its system. It still had its share of rich citizens, but the gap between those with wealth and those without was wide. Even as cloud cars almost as luxurious as the Queen's hummed by, beggars groveled for credits and food on the city streets.

Obi-Wan had been to Galu on his last mission. He had already seen the decay behind the once-grand buildings. The stone was chipped and weathered, and had not been restored. Graceful lindemor trees had once bloomed along the wide boulevards, but now they stood abandoned, dead, and twisted, rising up from the ground like clawing fingers.

"The Queen had made the right decision," Qui-Gon remarked. "Elections should stabilize the planet. It is time for democracy to come to Gala."

"Past time, it seems to me," Obi-Wan agreed. "Why do you think Queen Veda made the decision now?"

"There was a great danger of a civil war here," Qui-Gon said. "The Tallah dynasty has ruled for a thousand years. They were successful at one time. But power can corrupt. After King Cana died, the Queen knew that the power of the monarchy was slipping. She gave into the people's wishes and opened the government to elections."

"Which is why her son, Prince Beju, may be dangerous," Obi-Wan said. "How do you think the Prince will react when he sees us?"

Just days ago, the Jedi had thwarted the Prince's scheme to become a hero to the Galacian people. Prince Beju had caused a bacta shortage on Gala. Bacta was a substance used to heal wounds and regenerate damaged flesh. Its miraculous properties saved lives. After he created the fake shortage, the Prince had made an agreement with the Syndicat, an illegal political group on neighboring Phindar, to bring some of the bacta home with him. Obi-Wan had foiled the plan by posing as the Prince and helping Phindar's citizens remove the Syndicat from power.

"I don't think he'll greet me with open arms," Obi-Wan continued. "After all, I did kidnap him."

"He has much to lose if he opposes us," Qui-Gon pointed out. "He might have had help with the bacta scheme, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't from Queen Veda. If we keep silent about what we know happened on Phindar, no doubt the Prince will as well."

"Good," Obi-Wan said.

"But he will still see us as the enemy," Qui-Gon added.

Inwardly, Obi-Wan gave a sigh. Qui-Gon often told him reassuring news, only to contradict it in the next sentence. It was his way of telling Obi-Wan that situations were not fixed, but fluid. "Count on nothing. Only change," Qui-Gon had told him several times. He was always right.

Suddenly, Obi-Wan felt a disturbance in the Force like a dark wave.

"Yes," Qui-Gon murmured.

They stopped for a moment. The street they had turned down was deserted. And then they heard the sound of shouting.

They moved together, without speaking, toward the sound. Neither one reached for his lightsaber, or even rested a hand on the hilt. But every nerve was poised, on alert.

Suddenly, a crowd surged around a corner, heading for them. They carried laser-pulsating signs that spelled out DECA.

Obi-Wan relaxed. It was a political rally, he realized. Deca Brun was one of the candidates for Governor of Gala.

"Already democracy is working," he observed. The people cheered as the laser sign flashed gold, then blue.

Qui-Gon was still on alert. "Something else," he murmured. He turned to look back.

From an intersecting narrow street behind them, another crowd suddenly spilled onto the boulevard. They bore signs reading WILA PRAMMI.

"Wila Prammi, the third candidate," Obi-Wan noted. Yoda had briefed the Jedi on the two candidates opposing Prince Beju.

The Deca Brun crowd surged forward, and the Prammi supporters ran to meet them. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were caught in the middle. All of a sudden, signs were used as clubs, and fists and feet flew as the two groups attacked each other.

Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon. This was not a time for lightsabers. Neither of the two groups had blast weapons. But still, the Jedi were in danger. They were in the middle of a brawling mob.

A burly Galacian man holding a laser sign suddenly lunged at Obi-Wan, his sign held high. Leading with his left shoulder, Obi-Wan went into a roll. He sprang to his feet only meters away as the sign glanced off someone else's shoulder.

Two Deca supporters held Qui-Gon's arms as a third pulled a fist back to strike him. Qui-Gon employed a classic Jedi escape technique, twisting his body and striking upward with his head. The two Deca supporters were left with sore arms and ringing ears. They looked around for Qui-Gon, but he was already gone, heading for Obi-Wan at the sidelines.

"We can't do anything here," he told Obi-Wan. "Let's keep moving."

They dodged a Wila Prammi supporter as she tripped a Deca supporter, then smashed him on the head. "The road to democracy can be a rough one," Qui-Gon observed as they hurried past. "But on Gala, it seems rougher than most."